Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A Most Unusual Royal Wedding, 1893

The wedding portrait of the future George V and Mary of Teck, 1893

So the news breaks today, of great surprise to no one at all, that Prince William and the lovely Kate Middleton are finally engaged. They held a calm, sedate, and dignified press conference and ITV interview. Both gave safe and predictable answers. She seemed sufficiently awed by the grandeur of Monarchy while also appearing confident and mature. He was loving, and sentimental about both his late mother and his life partner to be. And he refrained from cracking any ill-advised jokes such as "whatever in love means."

Television reporters have been looking back at previous marriages of heirs to the throne, most particularly Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's ill-fated nuptials of 1981. But there is also the postwar wedding in 1947 of young Princess Elizabeth to the dashing naval officer Philip Mountbatten. Prince William's great-grandfather was not yet first-in-line to the throne when he married in 1922. Albert Frederick Arthur George ("Bertie") wed the vivacious young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later best known as the "Queen Mum," and through the misadventures of his elder brother Edward VIII ascended the throne.

But perhaps the most unusual of all these marriages was that of the great-great-grandfather of the current second-in-line to the throne. George V was not born as heir to the throne either. That privilege belonged to his eldest brother, Albert Victor "Eddy," who became engaged to a young Anglo-German aristocrat, Mary of Teck in 1891. But he died unexpectedly only a few weeks later, of influenza and pneumonia, all too common even among the young prior to the invention of antibiotics. Incredibly enough, the new heir to the throne became close to the bereaved fiancee, and the couple were married in 1893. They remained a devoted pair until George V's death in 1935. George also re-established a rather boring, sedate, and dutiful image of modern monarchy -- far removed from the flamboyant, indulgent, and slightly debauched court held by his father, Edward VII. More corgis, less champagne.

George V's Coronation Portrait of 1911

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

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